All about the chai

A look inside Chico Chai and its recent national award

Most people, it seems, tend to fall into one of two categories when it comes to morning caffeine: coffee drinker or tea drinker. While my mornings in high school were fueled by Diet Coke, upon entering college I quickly turned into the former. Admittedly, I like my coffee creamier and sweeter than not—although I did have a short love affair with the espresso shot.

As a coffee drinker, I’ve often found myself out of my element when it comes to tea. While backpacking around the world before moving to Chico in 2006, I tried a lot of things, teas included. The first one I truly enjoyed, though, was in India. That’s where I met chai. Milky and sweet, with a multitude of spices, I was instantly hooked.

When I made it to this fair North State community, then, I was pleasantly surprised to find Chico Chai at the Saturday farmers’ market. I got a glass of the iced variety and, though I don’t remember exactly, wouldn’t be surprised if I snatched up a quart on the spot. Well, a lot has happened in the past nine years, for both myself and Chico Chai. A recent tasting, courtesy of owner and brewmistress Sarah Adams, revealed just how large her operation has become and where it might be headed.

“I could talk all day about chai,” Adams said, smiling, inside her south Chico kitchen/tasting room. She stood behind four glass kettles filled with her four varieties of loose-leaf chai. I opted first to taste the chocolate chai—like most teas, the flavor lies more in the smell than in the taste. Then I went for the original, which is more traditional and just won first place in the chai category at the North American Tea Championship (congrats!).

“We buy whole spices and keep them as fresh as possible,” Adams explained while giving a short tour of the kitchen, which includes a storage area for the spices, a mill to grind them, and a huge pot—it requires a ladder to see into—in which to steep them. It’s that dedication to showcasing the spices and not using preservatives or extracts that she feels sets them apart from the rest.

Adams first discovered chai while away at college, where she studied to be a field biologist. She came home to Chico and was working with snakes but couldn’t find a good cup of chai. So, during the snakes’ hibernation, she took some business classes, rented a small kitchen space and started Chico Chai, leaving biology behind.

Since her humble beginnings in 2004, Adams has grown her physical space and has gone from a one-woman show to having four part-time employees “who are totally essential.” She introduced the loose-leaf teas (which she recommends simmering on the stovetop for the best flavor) based on customer demand and hopes to concentrate more in the future on her seasonal blends. Can’t wait to taste them, though the strong brew, on ice, is still my preference over loose-leaf teas.

Find Chico Chai at the farmers’ markets, at local grocers and the first Sunday of the month in its tasting room at 1919 Park Ave. (It’ll actually be the second Sunday in April, due to Easter.) Head to for more info.